Dance Review: Coastal City Ballet’s Giselle is an authentic gem

Diego Ramalho and Ana Paula Oioli in Coastal City Ballet's "Giselle". Photo: David Cooper

Diego Ramalho and Ana Paula Oioli in Coastal City Ballet's "Giselle". Photo: David Cooper

Giselle is one of the world’s most beloved classical ballets. But since Vancouver is such a contemporary-focused city, it’s rare to see a live production of Giselle. Thankfully, Coastal City Ballet has brought this iconic ballet to life and has done a fine job. Showcasing some outstanding young talent, Coastal City Ballet’s Giselle is also very polished and well-packaged with attractive set, lighting and costume designs.

Coastal City Ballet is a company that serves as a development environment for young dancers preparing to enter the professional ballet world. Giselle was performed this past Friday, May 19 at the Vancouver Playhouse and another performance is scheduled for June 9 at the Surrey Arts Centre.

What was very striking from the May 19 performance was Coastal City Ballet’s skillful ability to bring classical ballet to life. Complete with animated characterization, excellent miming and finely-detailed nuances of classical ballet, choreographer Irene Schneider has fitted the company with a remarkably authentic style. It’s a style that gives a nod to the likes of American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Ballet, from the carriage and expression of the dancers, to the beautifully painted backdrops of the show.

The plot involves peasant girl Giselle, who dies of heartbreak after learning her boyfriend Albrecht is actually a nobleman betrothed to wed a countess. When Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave in the second act, her spirit protects Albrecht from danger and the two lovers are reunited for a short time.

The opening night lead dancers, Ana Paula Oioli as Giselle and Diego Ramalho as Alrecht, wowed audiences with their strong technical ability and outstanding acting. The young dancers, who both hail from Brazil, possess special qualities that will likely help them excel as they continue in their careers.

Oioli was wonderfully light and airy. She landed softly in her jumps and was able to avoid the loud clunky sounds of pointe shoes striking the stage. She never hit a bad position and appeared to float on air when gliding across the stage in her chaine and pique turns. Her petite allegro also appeared to be effortless.

Both Oioli and Ramalho enthralled audiences with their gorgeous extension and stretched feet. Like Oioli, Ramalho also appeared to effortlessly float across the stage. He demonstrated a delightful bouncy quality in his dancing – nothing felt laboured.

Ana Paula Oioli as Giselle. Photo: David Cooper

Ana Paula Oioli as Giselle. Photo: David Cooper

What was most notable about Oioli and Ramalho’s performances was their acting. Their stylistic gestures, which were over-the-top and very animated, completely suited Giselle. Their chemistry together was electrifying – from their joyful expression of young love in the first act, to their poignant emotion during the couple’s last interaction. Oioli’s acting at the conclusion of act one was very well-done. It was incredible to see her character lose her mind and dramatically die from a broken heart. And Ramalho’s grief in the final moments as the curtain fell was tremendously heart breaking.

What’s interesting to point out is that Oioli and Ramalho are likely the actual age of their characters, and that gives their performances an authentic quality. While big name companies around the world may perform Giselle, the leads will likely be principal dancers who are much older. And while they would naturally possess more experience and finesse, they wouldn’t have the authentic essence of innocence that Oioli and Ramalho grace.

Also deserving of praise is the unstoppable Kira Radosevic as Myrtha, who is essentially the queen of the underworld. It was impressive to see Radosevic take command of the stage, showcasing excellent technical proficiency and physical stamina. She has excellent feet, especially evident in how much she goes over the bloch of her pointe shoes while en pointe. And on opening night, you could see Radosevic engage every muscle as she went into her penché.

Equally as impressive was soloist Ryosuke Kikuchi, who thrilled audiences with his sky-high leaps. You could hear his feet and legs strike in his beats, and he landed in perfect fifth positions after each double tour en l'air.

Company ballet mistress Katrina Bois has done a fine job ensuring Schneider’s choreography is clean and embodies the distinct classical ballet style, right down to each hand placement. The overall visuals of the production, courtesy of Stefan Stanisic and Paul Fan’s costumes, and Eberhard Matthies’ set design (assisted by Michael Kott) do a great job of transporting audiences to the provincial European village and ghastly graveyard of the show’s story.

The entire company are a pleasure to watch. They have a refreshing energy and demonstrate strong technique, precision and artistry. From playing the happy villagers to haunting spirits, the dancers are excellent at switching to different styles and characters. It was wonderful to see Coastal City Ballet succeed at putting on such an ambitious production with such finesse. This production of Giselle has it all – a true, heartfelt telling of a poignant story, with fantastic dancing and production values. No doubt, Coastal City Ballet’s Giselle will likely be regarded as a memorable gem in Vancouver’s arts scene.  

Coastal City Ballet’s production of Giselle will be performed one more time, at the Surrey Arts Centre on June 9. For ticket information, visit Coastal City Ballet’s website.